Indiana religious freedom law serves slice of equality

by Emmilly Nguyen, Senior Staff Writer

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has gotten an uproar of both media and legal attention in recent years. More and more individuals, especially in younger generations, are preaching equality.

America is becoming more progressive on issues regarding equality each day. Like many individuals, freedom of choice and expression are values many hold highly — specifically in regards to marriage equality, in this case. Personally, I stand beside these values, which indirectly tie back to the fundamental belief that our church and state should be separate.

But, when it comes to the matter of private businesses, where is the right of personal choice and values defined?

The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows individuals to ignore laws that conflicts with personal religious beliefs. The major consideration that has caused the biggest uproar is in the law’s protection of denying professional services to members of the LGBT community, should it conflict with personal religious values.

When it comes down to private businesses, religious beliefs should also be considered as protections granted under the U.S. Constitution.

It’s important to keep in mind that the law was not made specifically to be anti-gay. Protecting religious freedom is not synonymous with discriminating against the LGBT community. The law provides grounds to protect religious freedoms in general.

Whether it’s a bakery, or any kind of private establishment, owners should be allowed to deny service to anyone they wish, within legal boundaries. Restaurants may be considered public accommodations, but some are still privately owned.

Just as marriage equality should be deemed an all-humans right, it’s a personal right to have the freedom to religious practice within boundaries. Although the RFRA is different among the states, each state does have its own set of religious protection laws, as well as anti-discrimination laws.

This law protects religious freedom against concepts such as child welfare, domestic violence, public safety, state and local government. However, the reason behind the uproar in the LGBT community stems from Indiana bakeries and pizzerias refusing to cater gay weddings.

It’s not difficult to understand why this topic is the most discussed aspect of the law — it’s currently a hot topic on its own. But what’s being ignored is these businesses aren’t refusing to serve gay people, they are refusing to serve the institution it represents. These businesses are refusing to support gay marriage, something not supported because of their religion.

Sure, it can easily be refuted people’s religious beliefs are outdated and don’t fit in with how society is progressing. Does that give society a right to strip away an individual’s connections with said beliefs?

Indiana isn’t running around with a ridiculous case of homophobia. There are many establishments  run by devout Christians who do serve and cater to gay weddings, but again it comes down to a personal choice.

The former exercises religion one way and the latter in another. Neither way should be considered right or wrong under protections of expression.

According to the Senate Bill 101, passed by Gov. Mike Pence on March 26,  the state may limit a person’s right to free exercise of religion if it “(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

According to a Washington Post opinion column, an amendment has been proposed to further eliminate the discrimination on gay and lesbians.

In the same story a comparison is made between a religious baker catering a cake for a gay wedding and a Jewish baker catering Nazi cakes. But regardless of metaphors and comparisons, there is a grave double-standard when it comes to fundamental freedoms.

What is the difference between an establishment refusing to cater to a gay wedding and an establishment refusing to cater to an “anti-gay” customer? Is that not the same thing? Does it not come down to personal values that drive decision making?

So sure, the argument can be made that there is discrimination present, but it is definitely going both ways.

There is always going to be an unpopular opinion in a society that is constantly evolving and progressing. But, if this opinion regards religion and expression and doesn’t cause direct harm, then personal freedoms to religious beliefs should be respected.

It’s important to note the unpopular opinion in this case lies among the supporters of Indiana’s RFRA. Businesses will lose customers and most likely lose money, but the importance of religious beliefs and values is what’s driving this notion in the first place.

However, GoFundMe campaigns have raised thousands of dollars to help these businesses. Although it may be bad for Indiana business as people choose to invest or have weddings in other states, those who support the right to religious beliefs are investing their money into these businesses with all present risks.

Whether this law is economically viable and socially acceptable is not up to a personal determination, but the proposers and makers of this law have made their cake, and they better be prepared to eat it too.